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Urinary incontinence during pregnancy

Urinary incontinence (UI), also known as “leaking,” is a health condition that affects up to 60% of adult women in the U.S., and is more common with age.  For nearly 40% of women, urinary incontinence may develop for the first time during pregnancy. UI is defined as the involuntary loss of urine, and has several subtypes based on the physical actions or feelings that accompany the loss of urine.

One common subtype of UI is Urgency Urinary Incontinence, the involuntary loss of urine associated with urgency, or a sudden need to pass urine which is difficult to hold.  This type of UI is less common, affecting approximately 7 to 18% of women during pregnancy, but if you do experience it, it’s important to recognize and to discuss this symptom with your healthcare provider.  This is particularly important if symptoms develop suddenly or are accompanied by vaginal irritation or increased vaginal discharge, since it may be related to a vaginal or urinary tract infection.

Stress Urinary Incontinence is when urine loss happens during physical exertion or activity, including sneezing or coughing, and is the most common type of UI.  This type of UI is common during pregnancy because increased uterine weight and size create more downward pressure on the bladder. This is best addressed by maintaining a healthy range of weight gain during pregnancy, and by following a program of pelvic floor muscle exercises (Kegels).


Pelvic floor muscle exercises, commonly referred to as Kegels or Kegel exercises, are universally recommended in pregnancy to help improve the function of the pelvic floor muscles.  These exercises are also helpful as a treatment for urinary incontinence symptoms during pregnancy.

There are many reasons not to smoke during pregnancy, but one of them is to reduce the risk of urinary incontinence.  Cigarette smoking has been associated with stress incontinence (urine leakage with coughing or sneezing), urgency incontinence and leakage of urine during sex.  Smoking contributes to urinary incontinence by irritating the bladder, and also because it leads to chronic coughing, chich can make urine leaking worse.

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